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Physically-challenged students cry out: ‘We don’t need sympathy, we just need a chance’

There are many physically challenged people who defy the odds and go to school. However, in most cases, the certificate they get after completing their studies only leads to another round of challenges; especially securing jobs that will give meaning to their lives.

 

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Twenty-five-year-old physically challenged Ibrahim Adam from Talata Mafara in Zamfara State spent four years to acquire a B.Ed. in Special/Social Education at the Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo, Oyo State, with the hope of securing a job to better the lot of his poor family.

In 2012, Adam unsuccessfully applied for the Zamfara State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) scholarship reserved for 16 physically challenged students to study Special Education at the FCE (Special) Oyo, Oyo State.

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Adam told Daily Trust Saturday that, “I was shocked to learn that of the 16 successful applicants, only one was physically challenged; the other 15 were normal, healthy persons who were selected because of favouritism.”

However, upon convincing assurances of immediate employment after graduation by an official of the Zamfara SUBEB, Adam spent his meagre savings, alongside tips from kind-hearted benefactors, to acquire the metaphorical “passport to better life.”

Therefore, Adam was so happy when he graduated in 2016 that he immediately forwarded an application letter to the SUBEB secretariat in Gusau; yet, for three years, there has been no response.

He lamented that, “Sadly, three years after graduation, it has been the same story everywhere I go. I think I am finding it difficult to get a job because I am deaf.

“Before studying Special/Social Education, I had volunteered for years at one of the special schools, without pay from either the community or government.

“I also faced the same discrimination in admission. In fact, this challenge of discrimination has motivated me to study law whenever I get money in order to advocate for the rights and privileges of people in my condition; including women and children.”

Just like Adam, Miss Mushin Ibrahim, another physically challenged graduate of Sociology from Bauchi State, is also finding it difficult to get a job years after graduation.

Miss Ibrahim has not been able to land a job despite finishing as one of the best students in her school.

She said, “Despite my academic qualifications and several application letters, I am still unemployed years after graduation. I find it difficult to get employment due to discrimination. Even in the teaching field, they said I didn’t study Special Education. Now, I have resigned to fate.”

When contacted, the pioneer President of Gombe State Deaf Students Association (GSDSA), Yusuf Kumo, lamented the discrimination faced by physically challenged graduates in the Nigerian labour market, especially with regard to choice and area of specialisation.

Kumo said, “The problem we disabled people face in terms of employment is discrimination of choice and specialisation, especially for some of us that didn’t study Special Education.

“That’s why it’s difficult, almost impossible, for government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to employ us. That’s a big problem for us because we wish to be employed in our areas of specialisation.

Kumo, therefore, implored MDAs, as well as state governments, to kindly reserve at least 10 per cent of job openings in their domains for physically challenged applicants.

Kumo said this was in accordance with the recent directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to the Head of Service, Winifred Oyo-Ita, to increase Federal Government’s employment quota for physically challenged job seekers from two to 10 per cent.

President Buhari gave the directive during the annual International Day of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) held in Abuja on December 3, 2018.

He equally promised to sign into law the People With Disabilities Bill as soon as it was passed by the National Assembly.

Daily Trust Saturday further recalls that the National Assembly had on March 28, 2018, approved a conference report of a bill to ensure full integration of disabled persons into society, including “no” discrimination in employment and at the work place.

The bill, jointly sponsored by Sen. Francis Alimikhena (APC, Edo) and Ochiglegor Idagbo (PDP, Cross River), was passed at the Senate and House of Representatives November 22, and May 18, 2016, respectively.

The House of Representatives went a step further with a “Bill for an Act to provide that 20 per cent jobs in all Federal Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) be reserved for the physically challenged persons in Nigeria.”

Sponsored by the House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos), the bill was read for the second time in February, 2018.

A Professor of Mass Communication and Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Prof. Nnanyelugo Okoro, attributed the plight of the physically challenged in the labour market to “lack of coherent government policy to address unemployment generally.

“It is not just the physically challenged. The larger picture is that there is no coherent policy on the part of government to address unemployment generally, and it seems the government has no lasting solution coming.

“This is particularly bad for the PWDs because of their peculiar, complex problems. The reason is because the people at the corridors of power are not people-focused. Ironically, we are in a country riddled with all manners of corruption.”

Can a physically challenged applicant discriminated against in the labour market institute an action in court? “Yes”,” said an Abuja-based human rights lawyer, Amaechi Nwaiwu (SAN).

Nwaimu said, “If you have faced discrimination at the labour market, either in the public or private sector, on account of any form of disability, you can institute an action in court. There is the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights that care of that. You have every a right not to be discriminated against for any reason whatsoever.”

Employment discrimination against PWDs real, not imaginary

The Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the The Albino Foundation, Mr. Jake Ekpelle, told Daily Trust Saturday that discrimination against people with physical, intellectual and psychological disabilities was real, not imaginary.

Mr. Ekpelle said, “Ours is a special, pathetic case. Although it must be admitted that there is widespread unemployment in Nigeria today, it is important to point out that discrimination against people with disabilities is around 70 to 90 per cent across all sectors of the economy.

“In the labour market, employers distance themselves from applicants with any form of disability because of taboo and societal pressure.

“Remember how we fought the police over an albino veterinary doctor that had the overall best score of 82 out of 100 from the Police Academy. The young man was dropped simply because of his physical condition. But we said no until he was reinstated. That’s the dismal reality.”

Meanwhile, an employer of labour and the Proprietor of St. Joseph Schools, based in Awka and Onitsha in Anambra State, Dr. Joseph Nwafor, admitted that it was unfortunate to discriminate against physically challenged persons in the labour market.

He, however, added that certain categories of jobs required certain physical, mental and psychological fitness.

Dr. Nwafor said, “Take for instance, jobs in the military, police and other para-military agencies. The discrimination is unfortunate, but you cannot just recruit anybody there.

“Even in our own teaching profession. I have employed a good number of teachers, but I can tell you, as a matter of fact, that some subjects require fitness in certain aspects.

“For example, you cannot employ a blind person to teach Mathematics or any of the sciences just like you cannot employ a cripple to teach Physical Education. These are the facts.”

Spiralling unemployment: Any hope for the physically challenged?

According to a recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the number of unemployed Nigerians jumped from 17.6 million in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2017 to 20.9 in the third quarter (Q3) of 2018.

This, the report added, means a percentage increase from 18.8 per cent to 23.1 per cent in the period under review.

Although the report was silent on the number of unemployed physically challenged persons in Nigeria, it classified the unemployed to include those who did nothing at all within 20 hours in a week.

This is just as Nigeria’s labour force, aged 24 to 64 years, jumped from 111.1 million in 2017 to 115.5 million in 2018.

The revelation on worsening unemployment in Nigeria has raised concerns among economic analysts on the job prospects of physically challenged Nigerian graduates.

 

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